Exogal’s Comet Plus DAC

The driving bass line in Paul Weller’s “Peacock Suit” instantly convinces me that the Comet Plus is an excellent DAC. It renders music with cohesion, with a groove that is unmistakable. Best of all you won’t find yourself saying “pretty good for digital.”

There are multiple schools of thought when it comes to listening to any component run in, but if it sucks out of the box, it isn’t going to become magically great after a hundred or a zillion hours of burn in. Outstanding components offer compelling performances straight out of the box, only to improve with a bit of time. The Exogal Comet Plus delivers right from power up; and while they do suggest some burn in time, it opens up considerably after about 24 hours of continuous play and then a little more as you pile hours on the clock.

This DAC is equally beguiling switching to the sultry voice of Amy Winehouse, as she sings “F-Me Pumps.” The Quad/REL combination pumps out bass like nobody’s business; lot’s of weight, growl and sheer push. And Winehouse’s’ raspiness is preserved while offering a lot of body and fullness. No matter what the program, this is an exciting musical component.

Hundreds of albums later, whether listening to high-res digital files (the Comet Plus handles it all from 24/192 PCM files up to mega DSD) I remain fully engaged. Cool as the high res playback is, the Comet’s ability to provide exceptional playback quality with standard CD resolution files is what keeps me excited. You will not be the least bit disappointed with high res playback via the Comet and your favorite form of data transfer. Many DAC’ commanding the Comet Plus’ pricetag ($3,500 as the Plus version with higher capacity power supply) scrimp on one aspect of digital playback in hopes of gathering attention. Not here, this baby is pure American know-how through and through.

Call it what you will

As digital playback continues to improve, it becomes more natural, more organic, more lifelike. While some may say digital is starting to sound more like analog, I submit it just sounds more like music and freer of artifacts, noise, or whatever distortions trigger your brain to think it’s listening to reproduced music versus the real thing.

At first audition, you might even find the Comet Plus slightly warm or romantic. (And I mean slightly.) You might even want to take it apart and hunt for a vacuum tube or two inside, but I mean this in the best possible way. The best tube circuits have magic, a delicacy, that can present music in an easier way that comes across as tonally more inviting than transistors, and only the best solid state can achieve this sense of ease. This is what the Comet Plus provides in all three of my reference system. If it were a phono cartridge, it would be somewhere between the new Grado Statement 2 and the Koetsu Jade Platinum. If it were a preamplifier, it would split the difference between the tonality of the Conrad Johnson GAT 2 and the Audio Research REF 6. All the musical integrity is intact, but there’s something special going on here. If it were a leather jacket, it would be a John Varvatos piece – hip, cool, and looks like it cost a lot more than you paid for it. I hope that’s helping you out a bit, as this can be so tough to define.

Seriously, you should hear this little box, available in silver or black. Hailing from Minneapolis, where people tend to go about their business of getting stuff done without a lot of fanfare, this ethos is reflected in the Comet Plus. It has understated good looks, with a tasteful design and a modest footprint that will make it home in any system. The combination of a cool, roundy shape, top shelf materials, and the fact that you can get it in black too is very fashion forward.

Hooking up

Though other reviewers have either bypassed the analog input of the Comet Plus or groused about its quality and functionality, I found it to be quite good. It’s never wise to assume anything, especially when it comes to your music, system, and habits. Should you be the kind of music and audio lover that is looking for a high-performance digital solution, but then gets pulled into the analog world, you’re going to appreciate that analog input.

Plugging in the now upgraded (with an Ortofon 2M Bronze cartridge) Shinola Runwell turntable makes for a killer system with virtually no footprint, thanks to the Runwell’s built in phonostage. Spinning more of my share of LPs this way was proved a ton of fun. Mated to a Pass Labs XA30.8 power amplifier and the Graham LS5/9 speakers were incredibly musical and involving. Moving the Comet Plus to the new room three system with the PrimaLuna DialogueHP integrated and the Quad 2812/REL S2 combination even better.

And it’s got a nice headphone amp as well, though my experience with the phones at my disposal from Audeze, OPPO and AKG find the Comet a little bit lacking for ultimate punch, but easier to drive phones like the Grados, JBL, and Beats (I know, I know) are just fine. Bottom line, it’s a nice addition, but the Comet won’t be your ultimate headphone amplifier. As little as I listen to phones, this wouldn’t stop me from buying a Comet in the least.

Using the Comet Plus as a digital hub, inputs for USB, Toslink, SPDIF and AES/EBU should have you rocking, no matter what your sources. Most of my listening was done via Mac Book Pro, Mac Mini or the new Dell XPS 27 that we just reviewed. Mac users will have a plug and play experience, and Windows users will more than likely have to download the necessary drivers from the Exogal website. The HDMI EXONET connectors are strictly for use when connecting to other Exogal products, not as a digital input, so don’t expect to use this as an input source.

While many will probably use the Comet Plus with their computer of choice, excellent results were achieved with the dCS, Simaudio, PS Audio, and OPPO transports at my disposal, via USB and AES/EBU inputs. If you’ve got an older transport or are itching for an upgrade, the Comet Plus is a perfect step up that won’t require you abandoning the transport you already have. It proves a particularly engaging combination with the Simaudio MOON CD 260D.

Exogal has provided an excellent app to control the Comet Plus with your favorite smartphone, and they do provide a decent remote. You will need to connect the small antenna to make this all happen; be careful, as it is very small and easy to lose.

Around the block

Having quite a few DACs at our beck and call these days makes for some intriguing comparisons. Unfairly comparing the Comet Plus to the $40k dCS Rossini DAC/Clock, the $30k Gryphon Kalliope DAC and the $18k Simaudio MOON 780D still proves the big boys deliver the goods. There’s a level of refinement with the super mega DACs that isn’t here. But again, this is not a fair comparison. Comparing it to a handful of other DACs slightly more and slightly less expensive is where it really shines. The Comet Plus offers way more sonic refinement than anything I’ve heard anywhere near its price.

What I did come away with after putting the Comet Plus in the context of a $300k reference system and head to head with a few of the world’s finest DACs is that the Comet Plus certainly has the soul of a five-figure DAC. Five minutes of switching back to the Comet Plus, you won’t be looking around to plug the spendy DAC back in, with your ears in a panic. Think of the Comet Plus as an Audi A3 Sport or a new Miata. They offer so much fun and engagement, you don’t think about what lies beyond – and that’s what makes the Comet Plus such an awesome component. Listening to the decay at the beginning of Cheap Trick’s “Mandocello,” from their self-titled debut, the music just flows. Just as it does cruising through a whole pile of Ella Fitzgerald tracks. Yep, this is midrange magic at its best, yet there is plenty of extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum as well. The highest compliment I can pay the Comet Plus is that after the necessary amount of review dissection was complete, I forgot about it. That’s a winner in my book.

Sans preamp

Meant to work in tandem with Exogal’s matching ION powerDAC providing 100 watts per channel, (and we have a review of that on the tail of this review) a pair of balanced XLR outputs and single ended RCA’s assure compatibility with any power amplifier you might have at your disposal.

The digital volume control on board is excellent, lacking nothing in terms of low-level resolution, so when you aren’t rocking the house down, it retains all the sweetness you’ve become accustomed to. Unless you have a mega preamplifier or require all the control functionality, skip buying a linestage entirely. Putting the Comet Plus through its paces with both tube and solid-state power amplifiers proves highly rewarding, and both the balanced and non-balanced outputs had no problems driving 20 feet of interconnects. This makes the Comet Plus stealthy if you don’t want much gear in sight.

A unique destination

With a certain trend in digital pushing more towards opposite ends of the price spectrum, with exciting things going on in the five and six-figure range, as well as the next to nothing column. There isn’t much going on for the music lover that would like to step up from their OPPO but doesn’t want to take a second mortgage on the house or have a modded component. While I’ve had some intriguing experiences with modded components, at the end of the day, they remain Frankensteins. Personally, I’d rather plunk my hard-earned cash down on the original manufacturer.

There’s a lot of brain trust from Wadia at Exogal, and for those of you not familiar, Wadia was a groundbreaking digital company. Consequently, while the Comet Plus has some unique technology under the hood, it is incredibly user-friendly. Combining clean design, robust build quality and above all, fantastic sound makes the Exogal Comet Plus and Exceptional Value Award winner. I suggest spending a few bucks and just getting the Plus model with the bigger power supply because you know your inner tweakasaurus wants it anyway. Highly recommended; and just step up to the plate for the better power supply. It’s worth it and you know you’ll want it anyway.­­­

The Exogal Comet Plus DAC and power supply




Amplification              PrimaLuna HP Premium Integrated (KT 150 model)

Speakers                     Quad 2812 w/REL S2 subwoofer

Cable                           Cardas Clear

Reimyo DAP 999EX DAC and CDT 777 transport

If you think digital audio is merely bits being decoded and there isn’t any difference between players, you haven’t been listening.

Much like your favorite phono cartridges, all digital players have their own personalities, too. They all take a different approach, and it’s not necessarily better or worse, but it is certainly different – with each manufacturer putting a different emphasis on the part of the player they find the most important. This DAC and transport combination from Reimyo is a perfect example.

With so much emphasis on high resolution digital audio, Reimyo’s Kauzo Kiuchi (the founder of Combak) chooses to optimize his player, in this case, as a separate DAC and transport, for 16 bit/44.1kHz playback, and incorporate his take on fine tuning the combination; two sets of their Combak tuning plugs are included to deliver the digital goods. They also suggest using a bevy of their signal and power cables to achieve the ultimate result.

In the day of DSD and high res files, this may seem like an anachronism to some. But let’s face it, unless you started collecting music three weeks ago, the bulk of your collection is probably redbook files, or even compact discs. Should you be the music lover that really doesn’t care all that much about high resolution audio files, the Reimyo pair could be your destination, at least for the foreseeable future. Back when I traded my Naim CD555 for a dCS stack, I had remarked more than once that I could have lived happily ever after with the CD555 if it had a digital input on the rear panel. But computer audio dragged me down another path.

Un-digital digital

Listening to the ease at which the vibes and violin in the introduction of Elvis Costello’s “This House is Empty Now” are rendered, it’s clear that Kiuchi-san has created a masterpiece for music lovers. Forget everything you think you know about digital if you haven’t heard this player. Years ago it was very hip to have a first generation Play Station to play CDs, because it had a very warm and involving, yet unresolving sound that masked many of digitals errors of omission.

The Reimyo pair gives this same warmth without loss of resolution. I wanted to open the cover and look for vacuum tubes, but photos on the internet reveal that there are none inside. Another review of this player mentions the effect, comparing it to photography, saying that this player lacks the “sharpening” often associated with image processing. As a photographer, I agree with this analysis, but as digital camera sensors have improved with more dynamic range and resolution, that precious little sharpening is not required anymore. And thanks to the 999EX’s approach, it’s not needed here either. For those that remember film, the Reimyo feels much more like Kodachrome than an unsharpened digital image, with a wide tonal scale that seems to fade out almost to infinity that to the uninitiated seems soft. The longer you listen to this combination the more under its spell you fall. You’ll be stunned at just how much musical detail exists in those standard resolution discs of yours.

While both components are excellent on their own, the pair together is where the glamour lies. Using the CDT 777 with Simaudio, dCS and Gryphon DACs all proved excellent, and vice versa using Simaudio and dCS transports with the Reimyo DAC, the combination takes the relaxed analog-like effect to the ultimate level. I’m always great at spending your money, but in this case I highly suggest buying the two as a pair instead of working your way up. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the full complement of Combak cables, so the thought of even more resolution and ease lurking with this pair is indeed compelling.

More music

This player will really shift your paradigm in terms of worrying about high resolution downloads. With so many of these files just being upsampled redbook, it’s tough to know where the rocks in the road lie, and it’s often too late to turn back once you’ve bought a bum album. Anyone having a huge CD collection should really give the Reimyo combination serious consideration as a destination player and call it a day. There was never a time during the review period that I found myself craving the high resolution files lurking on my Aurender W20 server.

Listening to Dave Stewart’s understated masterpiece from the ’90s, Greetings From The Gutter, there was so much subtle spatial information lurking on what has always seemed like a brilliant album that was only mediocre in the recording department, it was a revelation. Even The Monkees’ Then and Now, which has to be the worst sounding CD ever, sounded fantastic with this player. Songs that felt hopelessly compressed to the point of being unlistenable are now palatable.

Which means well-recorded CDs sound brilliant. Tracking through Neil Larsen’s Orbit, mastered by Bernie Grundman, is full of percussive attack, a massive soundstage and weight that feels like a 24/192 recording, as do all of the best sounding CDs in my collection.

Single purpose player

The CDT777 transport links to the Reimyo DAC via a single coaxial output, where the DAC features coax, BNC, AES and optical inputs, so those streaming music will not be left out. Unfortunately, the only input lacking is a USB connection, but with so many good, reasonably priced outboard converters, this will not stop you from using your computer with the Reimyo DAC. Though precious few audiophiles will need the Toslink input, it is incredibly well implemented, should you need to use it, proving that not even the smallest detail is overlooked in the design of the Reimyo DAC. As mentioned, files are kept in their original format without being converted to higher resolution before digital conversion, which is done at a 24 bit/16x rate.

A Phillips CDM-Pro 12 mechanism, with clamp (very similar to the Naim 555…) is used to spin the discs with excellent results. This transport is robustly built and at this point in the game, should outlive you. A very basic remote is offered to control machine functions and switch digital inputs, so the rest is really installing the various Combak bits and getting down to business.

It’s really all about tonality

If you’ve ever been taken under the spell of a great SET amplifier, a well-presented single driver loudspeaker, or the original Quad 57 loudspeaker, these devices all present a “continuous tone” type of musical reproduction, because of the simple signal path, lack of crossover effects and the lack of interaction between multiple drivers or output devices.

There is a certain signal purity that accompanies any of these that is unmistakable and, once you hear it, it will either become your holy grail, or it will not be detailed (a.k.a. “audiophile enough”) for you. Add the Reimyo combination to this list of components that has an all encompassing, musical feel to its presentation. At first blush, you might even find it slightly dull, but the more time you spend listening, the more difficult it is to leave the couch or chair in front of your speakers.

This continuous tone nature really starts to pull you into the music after a few minutes, especially with vocal tracks and acoustic instruments. The piano takes on a new life through the Reimyo, and it’s tough to believe that you are actually experiencing digital music, let alone redbook CD.

Is it for you?

In the day of multiple, high resolution digital formats that change like the wind, there will always be a steady supply of compact discs to play, much like the massive collections of analog records still floating about. Should you be a music lover with a substantial collection of CDs, in search of a better rendition of your library, the Reimyo CDT777 and DAP 999EX will be your grail.

MSRP:  $12,500, transport and $11,500 DAC

www.combak.net (manufacturer)

www.wynnaudio.com (NA distributor)